Nobody in Turkey is safe from being imprisoned over Gülen links, says news anchor

A new indictment accepted by a Turkish court on Monday asking for up to 15-year prison sentences for journalists working for secularist opposition Sözcü newspaper shows that at anybody in Turkey can be placed behind bars from now on over being a member of the Gülen movement, anchorman Fatih Portakal said on Fox TV.

The Turkish government accuses the Gülen movement, led by the U.S. based cleric Fethullah Gülen, of masterminding a failed coup attempt in 2016, while the movement denies any involvement. 

Over 120,000 people in the police, military, academia, media and civil service have been detained or dismissed from their jobs over links to the Gülen movement, which Turkish government refers to as the Fethullah Terror Organisation (FETÖ).

The recent indictment against the Sözcü newspaper over a number of journalist’s links to the Gülen movement created an outcry, with journalists accusing Ankara of using unsubstantial claims over links to the movement to crack down on the opposition. 

Veteran journalist and columnist Emin Çölaşan, columnist Necati Doğru, editor-in-chief Metin Yılmaz, internet editor Mustafa Çetin, and internet news coordinator Yücel Arı of Sözcü newspaper aided the Gülen movement, accoding to the new indictment.

Five journalists from Sözcü are set to stand trial in Istanbul on Jan. 18 and are accused of aiding the movement; the journalists deny the claims. 

“Given that Fethullah Gülen, the leader of the organisation who places his followers in different institutions, says that “You can openly insult me in public” in order to prevent his devotees from being exposed, it becomes obvious that appearing to be against FETÖ, to heavily criticise it in public, filing lawsuits against the organisation, or openly insulting it can not be sufficient to conclude that someone does not support FETÖ, or is not a member of the organisation,” the indictment said.  

“Now we have arrived at a ‘you have got be kidding me’  kind of news,” Fox TV’s anchorman Portakal said, while discussing the charges against Çölaşan and Doğru, journalists known for their uncompromising devotion to secularism and the principles of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the Turkish Republic.

“Everyone can be taken into custody now for being a member of FETÖ, after they build up that sentence, after they used it, they can take me, they can take you, they can take everyone,” Portakal said. 

Fatih Polat, the editor-in-chief of the socialist Evrensel daily, said on Wednesday that Turkey’s leftist nationalist had supported so far the government’s crackdown against the Gülen movement, ignoring the fact that irrelevant names were charged over their links to the organisation and against the Kurdish movement over alleged links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK)

“While the case against Sözcü, on the one hand, is related to the freedom of the press, it is on the other hand the government’s new move to tame the critical part of left-nationalist bloc, after securing the support of a considerable part of this bloc for what they say the struggle against FETÖ and the PKK,” Polat said. 

“You say Emin Çölaşan is a member of FETÖ… And also for Necati Doğru… And for other people working for Sözcü newspaper… You may not like those people… You may even despise them… But, for the love of God, put your hand on your heart… Say repeatedly ‘Emin Çölaşan is a member of FETÖ’… said Çölaşan in his column on Wednesday.

“What does to conclusion that the Sözcü journalists years long stance against FETÖ is not sufficient to decide that they have not been crypto FETÖ members hiding prove? It is true that FETÖ is an insidious organisation that camouflages its secret members to save face… But those accusations can be brought against anyone. Who can protect himself/herself from an accusation like hiding by showing himself/herself against FETÖ,” liberal-Islamist columnist Akif Beki said on Wednesday in Karar newspaper.  

Journalist Çiğdem Toker, in her column in Sözcü newspaper, said

“Is it not established that linking people who have never been engaged with something other than journalism in their lives to FETÖ is not credible? It should have been… But it is also known that threre is no tolerance left [in Turkey] for people who insist on pursuing journalism, who write the realties despite the shrinking space left due to the government’s power and all that pressure. That is the issue.”